April 30, 2009

Friday, 5/1

NYT 6:39
BEQ 4:34
CHE 4:08
LAT 3:45
CS 2:40
WSJ 7:29

Hot puzzle opportunity! Given the straits the newspaper business finds itself in, there are fewer top-quality crosswords available now than a year ago. Crossword constructors are keen to find a way to connect with solvers—and get paid for their puzzles—without relying on print media for distribution. Eric Berlin wants to make another suite of puzzles, along the lines of the groovy Brooklyn-themed puzzle extravaganza he made for the 2008 ACPT (available for free at the following link), and you can pledge a few bucks to get a copy. If Eric gets $1,500 of Kickstarter.com pledges within two months, his supporters will get a set of nine crosswords. A $5 pledge gets you the suite and puts you in the running for a contest prize. $40 adds signed copies of Eric's two mystery novels for kids.

I was the second person to sign up, and I want these puzzles to be made! So go sign up. Now. Please! You won't regret it. Crosswords are cheap entertainment even in these recessionary times.

If this approach works well for Eric, perhaps other constructors will follow suit. Can you imagine? Let's say that no newspaper or magazine will pay Hook or Heaney/Blindauer for a ridiculously difficult and intricate crossword (like their insane Friday Sun crosswords), but the constructor can self-publish via Kickstarter.com and reach a self-selected audience. The payments are handled via Amazon, so it's not as if we'd even need to write out a check. Win-win!

Joon Pahk's New York Times crossword

What day is it? Is it Saturday yet? No? Because it kinda felt like Saturday when I was doing Joon's puzzle. There are a few tough words but the challenge lies mainly in the clues. These ones were the most difficult, if you ask me:

  • 1A: [Take the wheels out from under?] clues CARJACK.
  • 8A: MUSKETS are [Arms on shoulders].
  • 15A: AROUSAL, in a way, is the [Opposite of depression]. In terms of certain physiologic functions, perhaps?
  • 23A: [They may create a buzz] clues ALES. Not BEES, no, sir.
  • 27A: A [Stumper?] on the campaign trail is a POL.
  • 28A: [They're not exactly user-friendly] refers to NARCS, the "users" being drug users and not technology users.
  • 40A: [Polar bears, e.g.] are SEALERS in that they hunt seals, not because they seal things up.
  • 41A: ELECTRA is the [Subject of plays by Sophocles, Sartre and O'Neill]. The latter wrote Mourning Becomes Electra. Sophocles = Greek. Sartre had an Electra play too?
  • 44A: You need a little French for [Poule's partner], le COQ. Bawk, bawk!
  • 46A: And a little anatomy, too—CECUM is the answer to [The appendix extends from it].
  • 50A: I know the SEA. But [Hydrospace] is not a word I've encountered before.
  • 60A: [Guy making passes] is a MATADOR. Bullfighters make passes? Is that the lingo?
  • 2D: An AREOLA is also a [Small hollow in a surface, in biology]. Nope, the NYT crossword may never toss a nipple into the clue for AREOLA.
  • 7D: KLEPTOCRACY is a [Government marked by rampant greed and corruption]. Great word!
  • 12D: EQUIPAGE is clued as [Army outfit]. Dictionary says it's archaic/historical.
  • 29D: The noun [Stick in the fire] clues the noun SPIT.
  • 31D: WELTER is clued as [Tumble and toss about]. Why don't I know this word?
  • 35D: Use your Latin for [Imperator's law], or LEX.
  • 37D: BESSEMER is a [Big name in steelmaking].
  • 39D: The noun [Meets near the shore?] clues REGATTAS.
  • 49A: MESSRS. is a [Quaint letter opener: Abbr.].
  • 53D: [Bad thing to get from your boss] is THE AX.
When I can single out nearly a third of the clues as tough ones, you know it's a knotty puzzle. A welcome challenge! And now the waiting begins: Will the Saturday puzzle be even tougher, or is this one of those weekends when it seems the Friday and Saturday puzzles have been flip-flopped?

Updated Friday morning:

Happy May Day! Workers of the world, TGIF.

Gareth Bain's L.A. Times crossword

Crossword Fiend regular Gareth Bain has his second crossword in today's L.A. Times. (The first was three months ago.) The theme is NIXON/NIX "ON," [Follower of Johnson, and a two-word hint to this crossword's theme]. Each theme entry is made by lopping ON off the end of a familiar phrase:
  • 18A: [Communist watering hole?] is THE RED BAR.
  • 59A: [Place for a paw?] is LEG OF MUTT. "Leg of mutton" doesn't sound as American as "leg of lamb."
  • 3D: [Plead with one' frontier buddy?] is BEG YOUR PARD.
  • 26D: [Adorable, bottomwise?] is CUTE AS A BUTT. A baby's butt, sure.
Tougher stuff:
  • [Nuts' opposite?] is SOUP, as in "soup to nuts."
  • If you are [Fishing for marlin, e.g.] you have got to be AT SEA.
  • [Long-tongued congo critter] is OKAPI, crossing the IBEX, or [Goat with recurved horns]. "I'll take Animals Best Known by Crossworders for $600, Alex."
  • [Some National Music Museum treasures] is a fresh clue for AMATIS.
  • I like the -OR words like SOPOR, or [Deep sleep]. Torpor, stupor, horror, turgor, rigor. When did humor travel so far away from humid?
  • RASTAFARI is [Haile Selassie worshipers' movement].
  • [Department bordering Savoie] is ISERE. French geography is not my strong suit. A little easier: A [Native of central Spain], Madrid in particular, is a MADRILEÑO.
Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Take That, Matt"

Brendan was looking to do penance—I'm not clear on the reason—and asked his readers whose crosswording style he should mimic as punishment. When Matt Jones's themeless Jonesin' puzzle came out this week with a 16x16 grid featuring an amazing 8x6 swath of white space in the middle, Brendan's challenge was clear. He didn't manage to replicate that fearsome midsection, but he eliminated Matt's corner cheater/helper squares and overall had smoother fill. (No skin off Matt's back for his clunkers—though I encourage other constructors to try to do better than Matt did with that middle.)

What's the best stuff in this puzzle? I liked these ones:
  • [Card catalog?] clues HAND, as in your hand in a poker game.
  • [He or I, e.g.] clues ELEM. Helium and iodine are elements.
  • BAR TAB is clued with [It might have some B-52s on it].
  • UNDERPAID is [Like grunt work].
  • [Portlanders, e.g.] in Oregon are WESTERNERS. I contemplated EASTERNERS from Portland, Maine, first. Shout-out to Matt Jones! He lives in Portland, Oregon.
  • AND SO TO BED is a [Noted closing from Samuel Pepys].
  • [Clear things up] clues DEMYSTIFY, which is a lovely-looking word.
Trip Payne's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Modern Canterbury Tales"

This is Trip's second literary-themed CHE puzzle in a few weeks. Keep 'em coming, Trip! I'm enjoying these crosswords a lot.

In this 15x16 grid, the theme entries are famous people whose last names are also occupations/titles of Canterbury Tales characters. From left to right, they are:
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim helps found America)] clues BENJAMIN FRANKLIN. A franklin was a medieval landowner of free birth but not of the nobility. And yes, I had to look that up.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim marries Marilyn Monroe)] clues ARTHUR MILLER. A miller mills grain.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim plays jazz piano)] clues THELONIOUS MONK. A monk's a man in a monastery.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim wins seven Grammys)] clues GLADYS KNIGHT. You know what knights are.
  • ["The ___'s Tale" (modernized tale in which the pilgrim portrays a superhero)] clues CHRISTOPHER REEVE. A reeve was a town's chief magistrate in Anglo-Saxon days.
JEHU, or [Biblical king who slew Joram], is one of those obscure answers that I try to pay attention to so they won't stump me the next time they appear. Do enough crosswords, and nearly everything will crop up a second time.

Favorite clues:
  • [Court proceedings?] clues TENNIS. I'd like to see that clue for HOOPS some day.
  • [Communication via pen?] is a pig's OINK.
  • TWEET is clued as [Bird's word]. What, does Larry Bird have a Twitter account?
  • ["Duck," in poker slang] is a TWO. This one's new to me.
  • [Moose miss] clues DOE. That's Ms. Moose to you, buddy.
Doug Peterson's CrosSynergy crossword, "Up for Debate"

Super-smooth, easy puzzle from Doug today. It's not necessary to understand the theme in order to finish this Mondayish/Tuesdayish crossword—each phrase ends with something we might debate. An [Initial public offering, e.g.] is a STOCK ISSUE. The DECIMAL POINT [separates dollars and cents]. If you're seeing a Pixar movie, you'll get a SHORT SUBJECT as a [Feature film preceder]. GRAY MATTER is [Intellect, informally].

Plenty of highlights in the fill: SPEEDOS, PICKED ON, PINOT NOIR, JEKYLL, PRONTO, "YOU SAID IT" and "C'MON," EXTINCT, MCJOB—with a Z, X, J, and a few K's.

Fred Piscop's Wall Street Journal crossword, "Bad Day in the Market"

You know how business-page headlines and articles try to get creative with synonyms for "went down" or "declined"? Nine such verbs appear at the end of the theme entries here, doubling as part of familiar phrases. For example, [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a sushi restaurant?] clues FISH TANKS, and [Bad-day-in-the-market headline for a used car lot?] is LEMON DROPS. There are five more Across theme answers and two Downs.

This puzzle seemed harder while I was solving it than my time suggests. There's TOURO [___ Synagogue, the oldest in the U.S.]. [Explorer of Canada's coast] is CABOT. [Verdi title bandit] is ERNANI, and as I do half the time when that's the answer, I started with ERNANO and backed out of it later. [Peninsula in the Adriatic] is ISTRIA, and I first tried a mangled ILYRIA there. I still have no idea why [Flat answers?] clues SPARES. Can anyone explain that one to me?


For Brendan

My answer is STIPEND.


April 29, 2009

Thursday, 4/30

CS 3:50
LAT 3:43
NYT 3:33
Tausig (untimed)

Greg Kaiser and Steven Ginzburg's New York Times crossword

Previously published constructor Ginzburg partnered with newcomer Kaiser on this geographic pun puzzle. Hooray, geography theme! And it's a cool one—they riff on CAPITAL OFFENSES, or [Pun-crimes committed by the answers to the six starred clues?], by featuring six countries' capital cities that sound like phrases:

  • 15A: [Final resting place for old autos?] is KHARTOUM, Sudan. "Car tomb."
  • 24A: [Father of the Ziploc?] clues BAGHDAD, Iraq. "Bag dad."
  • 49A: TRIPOLI, Libya plays on "triple-E" and is clued as [Wide shoe specification?].
  • 63A: A [Recently opened sandwich shop?] would be a NEW DELHI (India), or "new deli."
  • 2D: DUBLIN sounds like "doublin'," and it's clued as [Multiplyin' by 2?].
  • 48D: [Base of a fragrant tree?] is BEIRUT, Lebanon, or "bay root." This one feels a little iffy because who talks about, say, an oak root? But the others are solid.
I usually enjoy a theme custom-made for the geographically inclined, and I did indeed enjoy this puzzle. Let's see what else this crossword's got. There's more geography! [Congo tributary] is the UBANGI. [Like Gamal Abdel Nasser's movement], PAN-ARAB, sort of fits that category. There's ASIA [___-Pacific]. OKRA's clue tells us the word's place of origin: [Food whose name comes from a language of West Africa]. SIBERIA is the [Home of the 2,700-mile-long Lena River]; LENA is one of those Russian crosswordese rivers, along with NEVA, URAL, and OKA. IDAHO is the [Home of the Sawtooth Range], and MTN. is an [Atlas abbr.].

Other clues of note: [Wm. H. Taft was the only U.S. president born in this month] is SEP. ALFA is a [Preceder of bravo in a radio alphabet]. [Long key] isn't an island off Florida, it's the SPACE BAR on your keyboard. DART is clued [It has feathers and flies].

Updated Thursday morning:

Randolph Ross's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Yucky Yuks"—reviewed by Janie

Wanna hear a dirty joke? Boy fell in the mud.

Wanna hear a clean one? Boy washed up.

And that, dear readers, usta give me real "cause to crack up." In the second grade...

How nice to be a (chronological) grownup and still be AMUSEd by the very clean "dirty" jokes that unify Randolph Ross's puzzle:

  • 17A: [Cleanliness legislation?] -- add one letter to a small firearm and you get GUNK CONTROL LAWS.
  • 25A: [Target for an Apple polisher?] -- well, that would be the punny, quasi-homonym COMPUTER GRIME.
  • 41A: [Cleaning challenge in a very old kitchen?] -- and this would be the punny, true-homonym ANCIENT GREASE.
  • 54A: [Getting rid of sticky stuff in one's home?] -- drop one letter from the title of the magazine whose "seal of approval" has been synonymous with consumer confidence since 1909 and whaddaya get? GOO HOUSEKEEPING.

Since I basically never met a pun I didn't like, this puzzle had a high smile-factor for me.

And there's lots to love in the range of the non-theme fill as well --
mythology's CYCLOPS [One-eyed giant]; music's MOOGS [Some synthsizers] "Switched-On Bach", anyone?; philosophy's Immanuel KANT ["Critique of Pure Reason" author]; television (Sesame Street) and filmdom's (It's a Wonderful Life) [Bert's buddy] ERNIE. There's even a sports reference: GOAL!

Clue/fill pairs that just sat right: [Concentrate]/FOCUS; [Something to blow when angry/GASKET; [De-tension camp?]/SPA (since I basically never met a pun I didn't like...); [Vanity cases?]/EGOS; and
the "bonus" [Dirty stuff]/SMUT.

Fave cross: AGRA/AMES. Exotic India and heartland Iowa. Quel juxtaposition!

And with the shout out to GELATI and DOVE chocolate, consider this post to be a RAVE!

Dan Naddor's L.A. Times crossword—back to Orange

This unusual theme hinges on 73A ATE, a [Word that homophonically forms a familiar word when attached to the end of the answer to each starred clue]. How does that work? Like this:
  • 18A: ["Unforgettable" singer] is NAT KING COLE. COLE + ATE sounds like "collate."
  • 24A: [Cold War European] is a WEST GERMAN. "Germinate."
  • 31A: [1940s-'60s Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback] clues Y.A. TITTLE. "Titillate."
  • 40A: [Branch source] is TREE TRUNK. "Truncate."
  • 42A: [Florida city near Fort Myers] is CAPE CORAL. "Corollate."
  • 48A: The [House speaker before Newt Gingrich] was TOM FOLEY. "Foliate," less familiar than "exfoliate."
  • 58A: [Covered with black dots] is FLY-SPECKED. "Spectate."
  • 67A: [1976 Olympic decathlon champ] is BRUCE JENNER. "Generate."
Eight theme entries! Plus a theme that goes beyond the "same old, same old." Dan Naddor continues to put out interesting, well-crafted puzzles.

After I finished this crossword frowning at the unfamiliarity of CAPE CORAL, I returned to the April 20 New Yorker article "Swamp Things" (abstract here) and the very next section focused on Cape Coral! The town was built with 400 miles of canals, which makes it a homey place for the Nile monitor, an invasive species of lizard that can reach 7 feet in length and eats anything that moves. Now I'll remember Cape Coral.

What else?
  • 14A: EELS gets a fresh clue: [Rock band with a fishy name]. The band is not so well-known, but if you've seen Wordplay you might recognize their "Saturday Morning" song.
  • 54A: [Gaseous: Pref.] seems iffy. Is AERI a prefix, or simply the word root for "aerial"?
  • 74A: [Crude cabin] is SHANTY. Have you ever noticed that LEAN-TO and SHANTY share three letters?
  • 4D: BEN is clued as [Deadpan Stein]. Ben Stein has stomped on my fondness for his movie and game show persona by embracing spurious defenses of intelligent design and equating Darwinians with death-camp Nazis. 
  • 31D: [Song spelled with arm motions] is the Village People classic YMCA. Over at L.A. Crossword Confidential, PuzzleGirl included this sort of profane rendering of the "Y.M.C.A." moves that makes me laugh.
  • 36D: RUN LIKE MAD is clued as [Dash].
  • 43D: An ETRUSCAN was an [Ancient Italian].
  • 51D: The ORCS clue, [Tolkien henchmen], makes it sound as if J.R.R. Tolkien wandered around the Oxford campus accompanied by bloodthirsty orcs. His students were probably never late with their term papers.
  • 53D: [M.'s counterpart] has nothing to do with James Bond's boss. The answer is MLLE.
Ben Tausig's Ink Well/Chicago Reader crossword, "Broken Bones"

The theme here is bones that are "broken" by having their letters spaced out within the four longest answers. In my solution grid, I've circled the bone letters. The clues indicate how many places each bone is broken—so a bone broken in two places is in three pieces, and a bone with three breaks is in four pieces. RIB appears in the RUSSIAN MOB ([Certain Grand Theft Auto antagonists]). The FEMUR is in FORCE MAJEURE, or [Act of God, e.g.]. [Biased coverage of a court case] is TRIAL BY MEDIA, in which TIBIA is broken. And UNCLE VANYA, the [Chekhov classic], hides crosswords' favorite bone, the ULNA.

Assorted clues and answers:
  • [Like "Colored"] clues UN-PC. When my grandmother got senile, she went back to that word, which was...awkward.
  • ERSE gets an interesting clue: ['Whiskey" source]. Don't say the ERSE language never did anything for you.
  • [Rod Blagojevich's parents, e.g.] were SERBS. Every now and then in test solving for Ben, I suggest a new clue and he goes with it. Did you know this particular trivia? 
  • [Pro-black capitalist clothing company] is FUBU.
  • [Cobra's genus] is NAJA. If this is old crosswordese, it slithered under my radar.
  • FORT APACHE was a [1948 John Wayne western]. Not to be confused with Fort Apache, The Bronx.
  • ENNE is a [Suffix that may be considered condescending].
  • DEBT? [America exports a ton of it].


Introducing Janie, the newest Fiend

I'm delighted to announce that Janie, whom many of you know from her comments here and elsewhere or from the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, is joining the Diary of a Crossword Fiend blogging team. She'll be taking over the gig of blogging about the themed CrosSynergy/Washington Post crosswords. (I called dibs on the themeless "Sunday Challenge.") Janie'll be writing about the Thursday and Saturday puzzles this week and then usually covering Monday through Saturday.

Janie's a lyricist and actor whose day job is working for the estimable Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She's smart and funny and I'm looking forward to hearing her thoughts on the crosswords.

Let's give her a warm welcome. (Here's where we all applaud wildly and Janie takes a bow.)


April 28, 2009

Wednesday, 4/29

BEQ 5:14
Onion 4:20 (no kidding!)
NYT 3:44
LAT 3:14
CS 3:09

Barry Silk's New York Times crossword

This is Barry's second NYT puzzle in under a week. Usually he's a themeless specialist, but here he is on a Wednesday. And for the second day in a row, the theme includes a bunch of short answers rather than a handful of long ones. Barry's theme is a word ladder that takes us through the STANDARD WORK DAY, from NINE (1A) to FIVE (71A). Here's the ladder, in which one letter changes to make a new word in each step:

  • NINE (1A)
  • TINE (15A, [Small part of a spork])
  • TONE (18A, [Musical quality])
  • TORE (22A, [Made tracks])
  • SORE (35A, [Teed off])
  • SORT (44A, [Put into piles])
  • FORT (56A, [Locale in a western])
  • FORE (64A, [It may precede a stroke] in golf)
  • FIRE (67A, [Ax])
  • FIVE (71A)
Yeah, word ladders are cool. (Remember Patrick Berry's N.Y. Sun word ladder puzzle, with 5-letter words embedded in longer answers making a word ladder straight down the middle of the grid? Awe-inspiring.) You can see Barry's themeless-constructor DNA peeking through in the NW and SE corners' 4x6 blocks and the stacked pairs of 8's in the other two corners. Without further ado, a few more clues:
  • ["The Good Earth" heroine] is O-LAN. Not to be confused with photo studio Olan Mills.
  • EMPTY can be a noun, not just an adjective or verb: it's a [Recyclable item] such as a can or bottle.
  • A Tibetan LAMA is a [Prayer wheel user].
  • [Permanently attached, in zoology] clues the word SESSILE. It's from a Latin word meaning "seated." Barnacles are SESSILE.
  • I wanted [Canal site, maybe] to be the ear. It's an ISTHMUS, such as Panama.
  • PEEVISH means [Showing irritation]. This word merits a more prominent place in my vocabulary.
  • ["The Way of Perfection" writer] is ST. TERESA. I needed the crossings for this one.
  • [Tried out at an Air Force base] clues TEST-FLEW. What, "test flight" can be verbified and then put into the past tense?
  • [Part of an act, perhaps] is SCENE V.
  • I sure didn't get that [Simple sugar] at 51D without the crossings. HEXOSE! Gimme some hexose, baby.
Updated Tuesday morning:

Doug Peterson's L.A. Times crossword

Doug may have spent some time in the kitchen doing the Monster Mash while he was constructing this puzzle—the theme entries are phrases that end with words that double as kitchen verbs that make food pieces smaller. It would have been a little more elegant if HAS AN AX TO GRIND ([Harbors ulterior motives]) had been replaced by a phrase in which GRIND is a noun, as the kitchen verbs are nouns in the other phrases. Alas, THE DAILY GRIND is one letter too short to partner with FIREPLACE GRATE ([Log holder]). The other theme entries are LOADED DICE, a [Shady high roller's advantage], and a KARATE CHOP, or [Dojo blow]. That last clue ends with the sound of "Joe Blow" so now I'm pondering "dojo sixpack" and "dojo schmo."

Lots of Scrabbly fill here—NOZZLE, ZIPLOC, RED SOX, JAVA, and a bunch of K's. Good stuff. For the rest of my comments on this puzzle, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Pizza Pieces"

Patrick's theme gives me a touch of indigestion. The three "pizza pieces" in the grid appear somewhere in the theme entries:
  • 17A: [Corny gangster movie line] is "CHEESE IT—THE COPS!" I know this one because there was a "cheese it, the cops" button to hide an early-'90s Mac Yahtzee game I used to play at work.
  • 36A: [No longer drinking] clues OFF THE SAUCE. I don't know that I ever hear this phrase used, but I understand it fine. "On the sauce" feels more familiar to me.
  • 59A: [Be nervy] clues HAVE A LOT OF CRUST. I have never, ever heard "crust" used this way. Is it a regional idiom?
I wouldn't need the Tums if the CHEESE had found a way to appear at the end of its phrase, like the SAUCE and CRUST do. There's much to admire in the fill here, but I'd like a more consistent theme structure, especially when there are only three theme answers.

Brendan Quigley's blog crossword, "Gone Teabagging"

If you made it through the GOP "Tea Party" coverage without learning the X-rated meaning of "teabagging" and thus don't know why Brendan's puzzle skews anatomical, Wikipedia explains it here. The theme doesn't quite cohere:
  • 20A: [CNN show that certainly won't be doing any pieces on teabagging?] clues NO BIAS, NO BALLS. The actual CNN show is called No Bias, No Bull.
  • 25A: [What a teabagger did to start teabagging?] is DISCOVERED A TAX. On the surface, this lacks innuendo. And the Tea Party protesters didn't exactly "discover" a tax. What am I missing here?
  • 47/52A: [Advice to future teabaggers?] is SPEAK SOFTLY AND / CARRY A BIG DICK. Within the confines of the innuendo theme, this doesn't work for me because teabagging isn't about that particular part of the anatomy.
Maybe those with the mindset of an 18-year-old boy appreciate this theme, but it's a big fail for me.

COQ AU VIN, a [Chicken-in-wine dish], makes for a lovely answer. We like it when Q isn't followed by a U. Not crazy about DEEP REDS as an answer—if you're stuck with the entry in your puzzle, clue it with two reds, not one ([Cardinals, e.g.])—maybe [Ruby and claret, e.g.]. Weirdest-looking answer is KEYOFE, which is three words: the KEY OF E is a musical term clued with [It has four sharps].

Matt Jones's Onion A.V. Club crossword

Matt's puzzle really should've run last week or the week before for maximum theme resonance. 420, or 4/20 or April 20, has become a marijuana thing. The theme entries begin with numbers that, when multiplied together, equal 420. The details:
  • 17A: TWO PEOPLE is a [1973 Peter Fonda travel drama in which Lindsay Wagner's character asks to share some kif]. Kif or kef, from an Arabic word, means cannabis.
  • 24A: The [HBO drama with a good bit of weed-smoking] is SIX FEET UNDER.
  • 40A: [Red shape behind a pot leaf on the Yippie flag] is a FIVE-POINTED STAR.
  • 51A: SEVEN SISTERS fills in the blank in ["The ___ of Sleep" (1860 Mordecai Cook historical survey on drug use, including marijuana].
  • 63A: The pot-advocacy magazine HIGH TIMES is clued as [What one gets by multiplying the numbers in this puzzle's theme answers]. The four numbers have "high" aspects to their clues, and 2 TIMES 6 TIMES 5 TIMES 7 = 420. 
My, that's involved. If I cared one whit about the whole 4/20 thing this theme would have wowed me, but while I appreciate the intricacy of the theme, the payoff was a bit of a letdown for me.

Names I didn't know: EMILIE is [Oskar Schindler's wife]. RITA is [Raspy-voiced former Fox News host Cosby]. [Joy Division casualty Curtis] is IAN Curtis.

Favorite clue: ["The Right Stuff" group, to legions of fans]. I had the TB at the end of the answer and just could not think of any nickname for the astronauts in the movie. Eventually NKOTB, or New Kids on the Block, emerged. I don't know if Matt (or editor Ben Tausig) hoped people would wander into that dead end, but I sure did.



crossword 9:38
puzzle 4:00ish

hello, fellow crossword solvers, and welcome to the 47th episode of matt gaffney's weekly crossword contest, "Disconsonant Vowels." this week's contest featured a very tough crossword along with a tricky metapuzzle. let's have a look. the puzzle contains five 15-letter "theme" answers:

  • ["The Little Big Apple"] is MANHATTAN, KANSAS, home of kansas state university. i didn't know it had that nickname, but it makes perfect sense. not to be confused with reno, the "biggest little city in the world."
  • [R.E.M. song off "Reckoning"] is LETTER NEVER SENT. i don't know this song. i don't even know the album, although i thought i had heard of all of the REM albums. is it new(ish)?
  • [#1 country hit of 2005 for Faith Hill] is MISSISSIPPI GIRL. didn't know this either, but that's somewhat less surprising.
  • [Thoroughly] clues FROM TOP TO BOTTOM.
  • and [Marble Cliff, Ohio, and Grove City, Ohio, for two] are apparently COLUMBUS SUBURBS. um... okay.

what do these theme answers have in common? well, the title is a hint to look at the vowels, and it seems like each theme answer has only one vowel, used over and over: A in MANHATTAN, KANSAS, E in LETTER NEVER SENT, I in MISSISSIPPI GIRL, O in FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, and U in COLUMBUS SUBURBS. oh wait... except that COLUMBUS has an O in it, too. what's going on?

a closer look at the grid reveals that actually, entire rows of the puzzle contain only single vowels. in fact, the 15 rows can be divided into 5 3-row stacks, each stack containing only a single vowel: A for the top fifth, then progressing alphabetically to E, I, O, and U. so in some sense, those five answers aren't the theme answers... every single across answer is a theme answer! (well, maybe not SSR, DMV, PSST, FSK, and TSST.) however, there are some glitches (like the O in COLUMBUS), which i've circled in the screenshot:

  • 1-across is ["Time's Arrow" novelist] martin AMIS, son of "lucky jim" novelist kingsley AMIS. i've heard stories of people missing out on the ACPT A finals because they tried AMES for this exact clue, crossing the I in actor delroy LINDO. (i obviously wasn't there, so maybe i've got some of the facts wrong.) anyway, it's definitely AMIS. i've read this book; it's about a guy who lives his life in backwards order, sort of like benjamin button (not that i've seen that either). it was kind of underwhelming, actually. back in college i was really into literature featuring non-standard progressions of time in the narrative, but this was easily the weakest of the books i read in this stretch. not that it's a bad book—but the others were just so good: the good soldier, catch-22, and some others i can't call to mind at the moment. something by calvino, probably. borges. etc. anyway, where was i? oh yeah, AMIS. there's an I in AMIS, which isn't an A. it crosses the I in -ISH, clued as [-like]. matt seems to like these -ated suffix clues.
  • [Clan rejection] is the scottish negative NAE, even though it's in the area of the grid where only Es are allowed. the A crosses the [Depilatory brand] NAIR in one of the easiest crossings of this wickedly tough puzzle.
  • the aforementioned O in COLUMBUS crosses OSH [Kosh B'Gosh clothing].

what do these seemingly out-of-place (you might even call them "disconsonant," if that were a word) vowels have to tell us about the answer to the metapuzzle? well, as always, it's good to check the instructions: This week's contest answer word is a well-known four-letter geographical place name. straightforward enough. is there such a place name that uses I, A, and O? why yes, there is: IOWA. and that's the answer to the puzzle.

i wasn't too sure about the W, because i didn't really understand how we would know it wasn't, say, IONA. but matt assures me that the W is also hinted at in the same way, because the W in HOW'S (49d, ["___ that again?"]) is also a vowel, and hence "disconsonant" in the same way that the I, A, and O are. color me skeptical... especially since the W crosses WOK, where it is most certainly being used as a consonant. i think of W as a vowel only in crazy welsh words like CWM and CRWTHS (which are fun words to spring on unsuspecting anonymous online scrabble opponents, not that i'd know anything about that), but i suppose there's something to be said for matt's argument when the W is part of a diphthong.

at any rate, it's a cool theme. the demanding nature of the grid (five 15-letter answers plus the vowel constraints all over the grid) required matt to exceed some of the usual norms for a 15x15 puzzle: 80 words, 48 blocks, and a whopping 40 three letter words. there were also a number of entries that, it could reasonably be argued, fall somewhat short of crossword legitimacy/familiarity:

  • apparently a [Soviet limo] is a ZIL, and the [KGB successor] is the FSK. um, okay. both of these were strictly crossings for me. and in fact, i had to make an educated guess at the Z, which crossed [Wyoming senator Mike] ENZI, not a name i'd heard of. there's also the related URS, or [USA rival, in Cold War Olympics shorthand]. ugly acronym, but at least that one was pretty gettable.
  • [E-mail program feature (hidden in RIVER PHOENIX)] is such an odd clue that you know the answer has to be odd, too. and VERP doesn't disappoint. what the hell is that? wikipedia says it's variable envelope return path, but i've sure as hell never heard of it, and i'm fairly well-versed (but not, apparently, well-verped) on my internet protocols.
  • [High-rise apartment number, perhaps] is TEN E. that is even shadier than the [Bingo call] clues i have known and not loved in newspaper crosswords.
  • did you know that [Finland's fifth-largest city] is TURKU? i sure as hell didn't. i think i knew that its second-largest city is ESPOO, but i definitely couldn't have named three more. still, i suppose there aren't too many options for U-only words down there in the bottom area of the grid.
  • finally, the [Palindromic, onomatopoeic "South Park" episode title] is TSST. i don't watch/like south park, so i don't know what's up with that. but at least it was gettable from the clue, with a couple of letters.

my favorite clue has to be ["___ Island" (Tina Fey-written "30 Rock" episode featuring attractive older women], which clues MILF. i recently got into 30 rock. funny show. MILF island is jack's brilliant idea for a reality show, with the tagline "50 8th-grade boys, 25 super-hot moms, no rules." the only problem with making fun of reality TV, though, is that any ridiculous reality show parody you can dream up is actually not far from being an actual reality show. MILF island, as ridiculous as it sounds, is really just a combination of date my mom and temptation island, isn't it? not that i've ever seen either of those.

okay, that's all i have time for, even though there's plenty more interesting stuff in this grid; feel free to comment on your favorite clue. see you next week for the easy-peasy may puzzle.


April 27, 2009

Tuesday, 4/28

Jonesin' 5:18
NYT 3:17
CS 2:36
LAT 2:32

People, I am swamped. You know how we're seeing more puzzles from Brendan Quigley each week (three, at his blog) than anyone else? Those represent but a teeny fraction of his constructing these days. On my plate: Second pass on the page proofs for two BEQ books. Almost half done with the first round of solving/proofing for a third book of BEQ puzzles. Have not yet begun the fourth, which landed in my in box today. Sure, I didn't get a chance to blog about Brendan's Monday puzzle, but rest assured, he is keeping me busy elsewhere. Then there's that medical paper I'm editing, too... Why should you care? I'm excusing myself from all but the most cursory blogging for a few days.

Matt Ginsberg's New York Times crossword

Matt must get bored with the standard sort of theme because he specializes in nutty themes. Here he's got 18 SIMILES in which the first word appears in the grid—and not in symmetrical spots, either—and the "as a blah-blah" part is in the clue. Of course, you can't fit 19 theme answers (including the explanatory SIMILES) into a 15x15 grid without making 'em short, so they're 4 to 7 letters apiece. Fun twist on the norm—and a surprise to see an oddball theme on a Tuesday.

A handful of clues to note:

  • [Baseball All-Star every year] is AARON. Hank, I presume.
  • [___ as a fox] clues CUNNING. Hey, wait. Don't we say "sly as a fox" far more often?
  • 37A is WISE [___ as an owl], and 5D, [Latin for 37-Across], is SAPIENS. As in Homo sapiens. Speaking of Latin, [Literally, "scraped"] clues RASA, as in tabula rasa (a tablet scraped clean).
  • [The Joker in Batman movies, e.g.] is a BAD GUY. Cool entry there.
  • [Light green plums] clues GAGES. More commonly called greengages.
  • [Told to in order to get an opinion] is RAN PAST, as in "I ran the idea past her and she said it'd fly."
Matt Jones's themeless Jonesin' crossword, "Center Piece"

Matt's crafted a plus-sized (16x16) themeless puzzle for us this week. The center zone is the centerpiece of the puzzle: a 6x8 chunk of uninterrupted white space, with 6- to 10-letter answers intersecting it vertically and 8- to 10-letter entries running across. Swirling out from the middle are four corners with three or four long answers stacked together. Many of the answers are stone-cold awesome, while some others rate high on the "meh" scale. Here's a small group of both, just from the Acrosses:
  • [Court request to the press] is NO CAMERAS. Iffy? Maybe. I like it anyway.
  • [Springy sound effect in comics] is BOINNNG. See, I was gonna spell it BOINGGG. It's not really a word that should go over 5 letters, is it?
  • EARTH HOUR was the [March 28, 2009 event that made many homes go dark]. 9 p.m. Central? Sorry, I have a standing date with a crossword puzzle and it requires electricity to solve it online. Bad Amy, good crossword fill.
  • SOB SISTERS are [Journalists who write heart-tugging stories, slangily]. Great entry, though I think I've seen it (maybe the singular form) in a puzzle before.
  • TOM'S DINER is [That Suzanne Vega song with the "doo doo doo doo" chorus]. Great entry.
  • DELTA STATE is the [Mississippi university that's home to the Fighting Okra]. Great answer, hilarious clue.
  • [Cleaned up a microscopic specimen, e.g.] clues DESTAINED. Oh, my. It's in the dictionary, but it certainly doesn't feel like lively fill.
Beautiful grid, isn't it? Now I am hankering for more plus-sized themeless grids with a skosh more room for insane blocks of white space.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Joy Frank's L.A. Times crossword

Today's offering is on the easy side, unlike its Wednesdayish counterpart at the NYT. The theme is things we do to animals, metaphorically speaking:
  • SHOOT THE BULL means to [Talk aimlessly].
  • PASS THE BUCK is to [Blame someone else].
  • [Dress to impress] clues PUT ON THE DOG.
  • JUMP THE SHARK, harking back to Fonzie's motorcycle jump over a shark tank on Happy Days, clues [Pass its peak, slangily, as a TV series]. While most uses of this phrase have nothing to do with actual jumping of sharks, the phrase's origin does. I rather doubt that the other theme answers' backgrounds involve doing those things to those animals, though. Who's going to be impressed when you wrap a schnauzer around your shoulders?
Crossings I liked:
  • Dan MARINO crosses the USMC, or Marine Corps.
  • SUE ME intersects a lawyer's FEE.
  • NEPOTIST, or [One hiring relatives], crosses the CLAN one might hire from.
  • PIQUANT ([Pleasingly pungent]) is a word I ought to find more use for. Why doesn't this cross PARMA, the [Italian city known for its cheese], the pleasingly pungent Parmesan?
Paula Gamache's CrosSynergy crossword, "Joint Account"

Paula's quartet of theme entries begin with joints in the body:
  • A [Really good joke] is a KNEE-SLAPPER.
  • One [Pitcher's choice] is a KNUCKLEBALL.
  • [Many a Timex] is a WRISTWATCH.
  • Disdainful slang terms for "child" include [Rugrat] and ANKLE-BITER.
The first two theme entries I had were the KN ones, and having paid no mind to the puzzle's title, I figured the theme would be all KN phrases. Er, no.

14A, ROUX, could have been clued as [53-Down thickener] to avoid having SAUCE both in the grid and a clue. [Type of yogurt] clues NO-FAT. I'm never keen on that answer, because hardly anybody uses that. Nonfat, yes. Low-fat, yes. Not NO-FAT.

[Rasta's messiah Haile] SELASSIE is timely for me. Rastafarianism is largely a Jamaican thing, and today my son will be dyeing his first-ever tie-dye shirt—using the colors of the Jamaican flag. His school is studying the Olympics and the nations that compete in it, what with Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Games. Having the Games here would be both a hassle and awesome. A proposed tennis site would be about three blocks from my house, and bringing the Olympics here would probably mean that a promise to fill all those potholes within 7 years. If the Games go elsewhere...then there is no hope for the roads.


April 26, 2009

Monday, 4/27

CS 2:59
NYT 2:43
LAT 2:40
BEQ tba

Whew! Long day. Loud day. We took the kid to see the new Harry Potter exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry this afternoon. (Who knew museums could be so noisy?) And then this evening we had Ben's birthday at Pump It Up—16 kids bouncing around, clambering a rock-climbing wall, and getting jacked up on sugar. (Also noisy.) At last, quiet time and crosswords.

Joe Krozel's New York Times crossword

Now, Barry Silk was just remarking the other day that he'd asked Will Shortz about running a crossword tribute to the World Series champion Phillies, but Will "said that puzzles must have a 'shelf life' of at least 5 years." I don't know that JOE THE PLUMBER, a [2008 campaign personality], fills that bill. Frankly, that feels like a dated reference already—I would have liked that theme answer better last December.

The other theme entries—name + occupation—are DORA THE EXPLORER, the [Animated TV character whose best friend is Boots], and ROSIE THE RIVETER, [Norman Rockwell painting subject of W.W. II]. These two are rock-solid, more enduring than Joe the Plumber/Journalist's moment in the sun. Answers I liked:

  • LOCK IN means to [Fix permanently, as an interest rate].
  • HUSH-HUSH is [Top-secret].
  • UP NEXT is clued [Coming immediately after, as on TV]. UP comes back in CHIN UP, or ["Don't let it get you down!"].
  • [Something for nothing, as what a hitchhiker seeks] is a FREE RIDE.
  • [Like the Beatles' White Album] means UNTITLED.
  • Good clue for SEX: [It sells in advertising, they say].
  • It felt like there were a lot of 3-letter answers of the clunky variety—suffixes (IDE, ORY, ADE), fragments (A LA, TSE, IWO), abbreviations (ETD, SEC, MPH, ESE), foreign vocabulary (ILE, UNA).
  • SAY NO is crossed by MAYBE, which has "no" in its clue ([Answer that's between yes and no]), as does DENY ([Say "No, I didn't"]).
  • Five-letter Roman numeral? Ouch. At least MCDVI is given an utterly straightforward clue: [The year 1406].
  • Crosswordese alert for newbies! [Fancy pitcher] means EWER, the [Main port of Yemen] is ADEN, and the EPEE is a [Sword of sport], the sport being fencing.
Pancho Harrison's L.A. Times crossword

Pancho's theme is phrases that sound like they're violent but aren't—except for that one that still is:
  • [One who's at home on the range] is a COWPUNCHER, which is slang for cowboy. I don't think punching of bovines is involved.
  • LIP-SMACKER is a [Noisy eater]. No slapping here.
  • [Oater villain who attacks from hiding] is a BUSHWHACKER, and he will ambush you.
  • A [Girl idolizing a pop star, perhaps] is a TEENYBOPPER. No bopping on the head intended.
If things don't turn out well for that BUSHWHACKER, he might end up in BOOT HILL, the [Gunfighters' graveyard]. The crossword answer ON RYE shows up not infrequently; this time we get RYE BREAD, clued with [Corned beef is usually ordered on it]. [Andre the Giant, e.g.] was an actor in The Princess Bride after being a professional WRESTLER. [Fozzie Bear, e.g.] is a MUPPET from The Muppet Show.

Updated on a busy Monday morning:

Depending on when Brendan Quigley's blog crossword is posted, I may or may not have time to review it today. But don't let that stop you from talking about it in the comments.

Lynn Lempel's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Blockheads"

This is one of those Monday puzzles that one might plow through without needing to understand the theme—and in fact, I finished it before beginning to ponder how "Blockheads" related to the theme answers. The first word in each of five theme entries can precede the word block:
  • [Idaho resort area] is SUN VALLEY—sunblock.
  • ROAD RAGE is a [Driver's furious fit]—roadblock.
  • [Cy Young Award winner, typically] is a STARTING PITCHER—the starting blocks for a foot race.
  • [It's tough to fight, proverbially] clues CITY HALL. Great clue. In Chicago, 1/8 mile = one city block.
  • [Intelligence test finding] is MENTAL AGE. You ever get a mental block when doing a crossword? Oh, yeah.
The two 10-letter Down answers are unrelated to the theme. A RAT-CATCHER is a [Certain pest control worker], but "rat block" isn't a thing. Neither is "near block," so NEAR AT HAND, or [Close by], is also not a theme answer.


Crosswords West tournament recap

Guess what? I don't have much in the way of a recap as I wasn't there. What I do know is that rookie competitor Jordan Chodorow swooped to the top of the standings heading into the finals, where he was joined by two ACPT divisional finals veterans, Eric LeVasseur and Eric Maddy. John Farmer reported that the three finalists all finished the finals puzzle correctly in the 7- to 12-minute range, with Eric M. taking 1st place, Eric L. in 2nd, and Jordan in 3rd. Tyler Hinman was supposed to split color commentary duties with a TV guy, who had to leave before the finals and so Andrea Carla Michaels filled in.

If you attended Crosswords West, please share a few thoughts about the day in comments—but do avoid relaying any spoilers about the crosswords, as the rest of us will be doing the puzzles in the New York Times this week.

So: How was it? Was a good time had by all? Did anything embarrassing happen? Anyone have great photos to share?


April 25, 2009

Sunday, 4/26

NYT 11:04
LAT 7:30
PI (untimed)
BG (untimed)
CS 4:28

Trip Payne's New York Times crossword, "Roughly Speaking"

I've been using the NYT's online applet for five years, and all this time I've simply entered the first letter of a rebus entry. But the last time around, I finally paid attention to what people said about how you make the applet accept multiple letters (type + and then the letters), and after I solved that rebus puzzle I used that + trick to make a comprehensible answer grid for this blog. But taking the time to enter multiple letters in a square while the clock is running? Never—until today. I am so glad I did because it turned out that there are both UM and ER rebus squares, and it would have been an unholy mess trying to make sense out of a grid littered with misleading U's and E's.

So! If you're looking for a theme that provides a joke or maybe wordplay of some sort, you are out of luck today. But if you're keen on Sunday-size puzzles with a themeless vibe and a rebus gimmick, then you have hit the jackpot today. Guess what? I'm in the latter group. I don't feel cheated that there's no group of theme entries that have more in common than some letter pairs, I don't get vexed by rebuses, and I do love a good themeless. I was surprised to see how many words and phrases there are that contain both an UM and an ER:

  • 23A: [Op-ed piece, e.g.] is a NEWSPAPER COLUMN.
  • 25A: [Worries for ransom recipients] are the SERIAL NUMBERS on the currency they receive.
  • 37A: STERNUMS are [Parts of some cages]—rib cages, that is.
  • 59A: SERUM is a [Blood bank supply].
  • 68A: [Actress Amanda] PLUMMER has a lot of hesitation in her surname.
  • 70A: [Salon product for flat hair] is VOLUMIZER.
  • 73A: [Possible item in a window box] is a GERANIUM.
  • 85A: A [Lousy tip] is a BUM STEER.
  • 98A: BUMPER-TO-BUMPER is [Crowded, in a way], as in traffic.
  • 102A: CONSUMER INTEREST is clued with [Individual debtors pay it].
  • 3D: COGITO ERGO SUM ("I think, therefore I am") is René Descartes' [Statement of philosophy].
  • 12D: [Extras] in an opera production or a mouthful of teeth are SUPERNUMERARIES.
  • 39D: A MUMBLER is a [Poor orator, perhaps].
  • 56D: MODERN HUMORIST is a [Comedy webzine founded in 2000]. Crossword constructor Francis Heaney contributes there.
  • 62D: DUMB AND DUMBERER is the [2003 sequel to a popular 1994 comedy].
  • 90D: The [Historic South Carolina fort] is SUMTER.
There were also plenty of answers with two ERs or a single UM or ER. All told, I count 35 rebus squares, which seems like a lot for one puzzle.

My favorite clues and fill were these:
  • [Country singer Harris] has the lovely name EMMYLOU.
  • A [Resident of Asmara] is an ERITREAN. My kid has a bunch of Eritrean schoolmates.
  • [It may go around the office] clues a MEMO. (Not GOSSIP.)
  • My boy loves Star Wars stuff, but I'd have know that PODRACER fit [Anakin Skywalker flew one in "Star Wars Episode I"] anyway.
  • [Greeting you shouldn't say at an airport] is "HI, JACK."
  • One [Reason to get all gussied up] is a HOT DATE.
  • An AVIATOR is a [Professional who may wear goggles].
  • [Be routed] uses the past tense of rout, not route—the answer is LOSE BIG.
  • [Pitched quarters] isn't about the drinking game—it refers to TENTS.
  • [Guitarist Cooder and others] clues RYS. How many other people named Ry are there, anyway? Lame crossword answer, but I love-love-loved Cooder's plaintive soundtrack to Paris, Texas.
  • [III, today] is TRE. Roman numerals in ancient Rome, Italian names for numbers in modern-day Rome.
Some less familiar stuff follows:
  • RALLYES are [Driving events that use checkpoints]. No, I don't know why they spell it that way.
  • CUE BID is a [Bridge tactic].
  • [Seventh-brightest star in a constellation] is ETA. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, and zeta are the six letters ahead of ETA in the Greek alphabet.
  • [Feather, to Fernando] is a PLUMA. The cognate with plume is obvious enough, but I'd never had cause to learn the Spanish word for "feather."
  • [State trisected by a river of the same name: Abbr.] is TENN. I did not know that about Tennessee. 
  • ESDRAS is [Either of two books in the Apocrypha]. I know this only from crosswords.
  • [19th-century geologist Charles] LYELL is faintly familiar to me...probably from crosswords.
  • I didn't know [Groucho Marx foil Margaret] DUMONT from crosswords—or from anything else, for that matter.
  • [Largest known dwarf planet], 3 letters? Help! Oh, wait. It's ERIS with a rebus square. I knew that.
Updated late Saturday night:

According to Jim Horne, the previous record for the most rebus squares in an NYT crossword was 28, so Trip blew that record out of the water with his 35.

Norm Guggenbiller's syndicated "Daily" Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle, "Overheard at the Pub"

The theme entries here purport to be what certain phrases sound like when drunkenly slurred—a word that ends with SS turns into one ending with SH:
  • 24A: [Nearly matching outfit's problem?] (A TOUCH OF CLASH).
  • 47A: [Wild zebra party?] (STRIPED BASH).
  • 71A: [Basket weaving operation?] (MESHY BUSINESS). I'm docking this answer one point for having an unchanged SS at the end of BUSINESS. What, the pub denizen sobered up mid-sentence?
  • 94A: [Ski house that rustles in the wind?] (SWISH CHALET). This could also have been clued with reference to the SWISH of a basketball dropping into the net.
  • 118A: [Washington nonsense?] (POLITICAL BOSH).
  • 3D: [Frenzy over a 1970s-'80s sitcom?] (M*A*S*H HYSTERIA). I like this one.
  • 67D: [Assertive simians?] (BRASH MONKEYS). I had no idea that the phrase "brass monkeys" related to cold weather, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey. Wikipedia tells us that "The term brass monkey would refer to the support arms for the Kelvin spheres which were constructed of brass or other non-magnetic material, monkey being an archaic mechanical term to describe an adjustable support or arm," but in England they like their brass simians too.
For more on this puzzle, see my L.A. Crossword Confidential post.

Henry Hook's Boston Globe puzzle from maybe six weeks ago, "Treevia"

I was going to skip this crossword, but the "Treevia" title lured me in with its promise of botanical content. Alas, the octet of theme entries were just an assortment of names and phrases that begin (n=3) or end (n=5) with a word that's also a tree. Sort of. HOLLY GOLIGHTLY starts with the HOLLY shrub. The ELDER (STATESMAN) can be either a tree or a shrub. The (STAN) LAUREL is a shrub or another name for the bay tree. There's the (MARTIN) BALSAM fir, (MODEL) PLANE tree (a.k.a. the sycamore tree), two fruit trees—(EXPIRATION) DATE and (DOESN'T CARE A) FIG—and ASH (WEDNESDAY).

As many of you probably know, folks at the Rex Parker blog dub deadly crossings "Naticks," after the crossing of NATICK, Massachusetts, and painter N.C. WYETH stumped many. Well, this puzzle has a pretty good Natick too. 73D is [Composer Grofe], or FERD*. It crosses 97A: [Armpit], or OXT*R. I figured an E for FERDE sounded more plausible than the other vowel options, but...OXTER? That's a new one for me. It's from the Old English and they use it in Scotland and thereabouts. Here's the Scottish Wikipedia entry on it: "The oxter is the pairt o the human body richt unner the jynt whaur the airm jynes the shouder." There's a beefcake biceps photo accompanying that definition. As for Grofé, you can bone up on him here.

Other not-so-familiar answers lurked here and there, but with crossings I found more gettable. TESSA is clued as [British actress-author Dahl]. PITOT is the [Physicist with an eponymous tube]. [Wing-footed, zoologically] clues ALIPED. Last, we have ["Embraced by the Light" author Betty] EADIE.

Merl Reagle's Philadelphia Inquirer crossword, "Oscar Stew"

This puzzle has an accompanying note: "Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood, so maybe the best way to win next year's Oscar for Best Picture is to recycle ideas from previous Best Pictures. Forthwith, a few samples." The theme entries commingle parts of the titles of two Best Pictures and clue them with descriptions of the resulting make-believe movies:
  • 23A: [Film about a famous sitcom "doofus"?] is WEST SIDE KRAMER. West Side Story meets Kramer vs. Kramer.
  • 30A: [Film about a new kid in town?] is THE APARTMENT HUNTER. The Apartment meets...hmm...maybe The Deer Hunter.
  • 48A: [Film about the first successful dealership?] merges Chariots of Fire with Ben-Hur to make CHARIOTS OF BEN-HUR.
  • 65A: MARTY OF ARABIA joins Marty and Lawrence of Arabia as a [Film about a transplanted New Yorker? (really transplanted)].
  • 84A: [Film about traveling around Florida?] is DRIVING IN THE HEAT. Driving Miss Daisy and...In the Heat of the Night?
  • 96A: DANCES WITH TOM JONES melds Dances with Wolves and Tom Jones as a [Film about a music fan's Vegas fantasy?].
  • 110A: All About Eve and No Country for Old Men birth ALL ABOUT OLD MEN, or [Film featuring people whose ears are hairier than their heads?].
I didn't have any of those entertaining "aha" moments. Maybe because I was sleepy? I dunno. There was one mystery answer I got only thanks to the crossings: [Kim of "True Grit"] clues DARBY.

Updated again Sunday morning:

Rich Norris's themeless CrosSynergy "Sunday Challenge"

Earlier this week on Facebook and Twitter, I asked who people's favorite overlooked constructors were—on various individuals' lists of the best/favorite constructors, a few of the same names seem to pop up over and over. But there are so many more talents who don't live on those "top five" lists. Anyway, a couple people cited Rich Norris. If you like themeless puzzles and you have an NYT Premium Crosswords subscription, do yourself a favor. Use Jim Horne's database listing of Rich's puzzles, jot down the dates of a slew of his Friday and Saturday puzzles, and head to the NYT puzzle archives to download those crosswords. About 130 of Rich's NYT crosswords are Friday and Saturday puzzles, so that's a book or two's worth right there. There's also Rich's A-to-Z Crosswords book, which I enjoyed. (I believe this is a USA Today-branded reprint of the earlier Sterling book, so these aren't USA Today crosswords.)

The last square I filled in was the B in the southwest corner. [Attend to one of one's preflight chores, maybe] is CALL A CAB (I don't call cabs—I just walk down to the corner and wait for one to come by), and the [2001 self-titled pop album] is BETTE. Midler? Yes, but I was trying to think of a much younger pop singer fitting *ETTE.

1-Across is extra-Scrabbly—[Speaker], as in a loudspeaker, is a SQUAWK BOX. Colorful answer, eh? Assorted other clues and answers:
  • STUD HORSE is a [Former Derby winner, often]. SIRE is not clued in relation to this—instead, it's a [Regal address].
  • The PUNCHLINE is clued by way of [It's just for laughs].
  • [Space travel phenomenon] is ZERO G, or zero gravity.
  • One [Pacific Northwest native language] is SALISH. This was just in another crossword quite recently.
  • To [Take a side?] dish is to EAT.
  • [Guadalupe Mountains tourist spot] is CARLSBAD CAVERNS. I've heard of the caverns, but not the mountains.
  • [Ban's predecessor] is tough. It's Kofi ANNAN, predecessor of Ban Ki-Moon at the U.N.
  • [Bazooka output] sounds violent, but it's just BUBBLEGUM.
  • TERI GARR was a ["Tootsie" Oscar nominee]. Jessica Lange won Best Supporting Actress for the same movie.
  • The URALS are a mountain [Range that's also a border].
  • ARBOURS are [Sources of Sheffield shade]. Sheffield's your cue to go British for the spelling.
  • The star [Arcturus, for one] is a RED GIANT.


April 24, 2009

Saturday, 4/25

Newsday 15:32
NYT 7:03
LAT 4:09
CS 2:52

Photo from last weekend's Marbles Amateur Crossword Tournament. From left, J. from Marbles; 2nd place winner Ben Bass; 1st place winner Anne Erdmann; 3rd place winner Jonathon Brown; Amy Reynaldo; Bob Petitto; Lindsay Gaskins from Marbles.

Brad Wilber's New York Times crossword

Aside from two 3-letter answers, there's nothing in this puzzle that's of questionable value. Smooth fill, lots of interesting phrases, several surprising entries, some intellectual trivia, tricky clues—what's not to like? It's even targeted right at the tough-but-not-too-tough Saturday difficulty level.

My favorite parts:

  • [They have big bells] clues TUBAS. My nephew plays tuba in the marching band. Apparently he has mad tuba skillz for a ninth grader.
  • RON HOWARD was named the [Best Director of 2001]. Also in the full-name category: FRED EBB of Kander & Ebb fame, the ["New York, New York" lyricist].
  • [Setting of Queen Beatrix Airport] is ARUBA. Not the HAGUE. Nope. Don't try that. Speaking of queens, NIOBE is the [Queen for whom an element is named]—niobium. Does this element weep a lot?
  • [Fond of] and KEEN ON are both lovely phrases.
  • WASHBOARD ABS! What a great answer to pop up in a crossword. The clue, [Desirable trunk feature], kept me wondering for a good long while.
  • THE LAST METRO is the [1980 Truffaut film that won 10 Cesar awards].
  • What's PEBBLY? That texture is [Like avocado skins].
  • [Stars play in it: Abbr.] clues the NHL.
  • HENRY VIII was the [Act of Supremacy institutor]. This answer clashes with WASHBOARD ABS—but you can help whittle away the fat in your midsection by going to STEP CLASS, a [Health club offering for aerobic workouts].
  • "DROP IT," uttered sharply, is a [Discussion ender].
  • I had the W in [Tony] so I went from specific to general: AWARD. No...how about SWELL? That worked for a while, but eventually SWANK nudged its way to the fore.
  • BUNDT PAN is a [Thing with a sweet ring to it?].
  • [Wear for Peppermint Patty] is her sensible SANDALS.
  • [Shuttle destination] isn't about space travel or weaving looms—it's the HOTEL the airport shuttle takes you to.
  • [Like many clerics] clues CELIBATE.
  • THE PITS, which are [Something dreadful], are also ODIOUS, or [Repellent].
  • The two 3's I didn't much care for are ERI, clued as [European conductor ___ Klas]—hey! That's a crosswordese silkworm, not a person—and IHS, or [Christian trigram].
  • MAE WEST [said "I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times to make sure"].
  • LA NINA is a [Cause of a dry spell in the Midwest].
  • I like the gentle mislead of [Hinges]. If your decision hinges on something, it RELIES on it.
Tough stuff, arcane facts, names, and so forth:
  • Stop snickering—it's just a valve. [Runs through a petcock, e.g.] clues DRAINS OFF.
  • [City founded furing the Cherokee Strip land run]—hmm, 4 letters, Cherokee points towards Oklahoma, must be ENID.
  • SCIPIO [crushed Hannibal at Zama]. Am I the only one who pictures C-3PO when they see the name SCIPIO?
  • Leonhard EULER ("oiler") was the [Introducer of the math symbol "e"]. Wait, does that stand for Euler? Is this an ego eponym thing?
  • [City east of Saint Lawrence Island] is NOME. 
  • FDR was the [Most famous resident of Warm Spr., Ga.]. He was not at all on my short list of candidate answers. He built a Little White House there, hoping to improve his polio/paralysis.
  • [Orenburg is on it] doesn't sound Russian, but the answer is the URAL River. Who knew?
  • MOZART's ["The Impresario" composer]? Not familiar with that work.
  • EL CID gets plenty of play in crosswords, but not as the [Battle of Cabra victor, 1079].
  • VAL [___-de-Marne, France]? Not so familiar.
Updated Saturday morning:

Barry Silk's L.A. Times crossword

Barry Silk, constructor of Friday's NYT puzzle, is back with today's L.A. Times puzzle. I blogged it in a fugue state late last night at L.A. Crossword Confidential. I liked the puzzle, I did, but I kept falling asleep while blogging about it. Blogging is hard work, y'all!

What I liked best in this puzzle was the zig-zag of WHIZBANG to GREAT WHITE SHARK to KATE MOSS. Isn't that a whizbang procession?

Good ol' ANIL shows up, but with a botanical clue I haven't seen before—[Shrub of the genus Indigofera]. There's the OXLIP [Plant in the primrose family]. Moving from plants to birds, we have AVI, or [Prefix with fauna]; MYNAHS, or [Winged mimics];; and a WATTLE, or [Turkey appendage]. Moving from biology to physics, we see ROCKETRY, or [Space science], and a RECEIVER, or [Listening device]. Head down the hall to the place where chemistry class and auto shop collide, and you'll learn a few more things: HEXANE is a [Hydrocarbon obtained from petroleum], the antifreeze ZEREX is a [Prestone competitor], and the tire company UNIROYAL [merged with Goodrich in 1986.

ICE FOG is not something I've ever encountered, but I like its clue: [Weather phenomenon also known as pogonip]. The word pogonip comes from a Shoshone word, and it's fun to say. Do yourself a favor and read the Wikipedia entry. They say that in Siberia, a person walking through ice fog clears out a body-shaped tunnel, so you can play a game of guessing whose tunnel you're looking at based on its size and shape.

Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"

I wonder if Newsday and the other papers that carry its puzzle have been getting letters of complaint lately about the Saturday puzzles. Not only is there the whiplash from six days of easier-than-the-NYT puzzles to a tough themeless, but lately the Stumpers have been markedly more difficult (from my perspective). Woe to the less adept solver who blithely picks up the Saturday puzzle, thinking it's the same sort of challenge as the Tuesday puzzle!

The top of this one killed me. (Solution here.) I even Googled INNES, the ["Wreck of the Mary Deare" author], but that didn't help too much. Might I kvetch here about the INNES clue? Yes, it is factual. But English classes and bookstores don't tend to focus on Hammond INNES, do they? (Actress Laura Innes is better known on the Google front.) Sure, that book was made into a movie with Gary Cooper...who died several years before I was born. A thriller that won no awards, based on a novel by a genre writer of no great distinction? Feh. You can learn something by Googling all this, but it sure is boring. More trivia clues:
  • FALA was a [Dog first called Big Boy]. I'm feeling several decades too young to appreciate this clue.
  • [Tom Thumb, notably] was the name of a STEAM LOCOMOTIVE. Old train trivia is not my cup of tea.
  • TEEPEE is clued [Literally, "they dwell"]. Fairly obscure trivia, but I do like etymology clues.
  • YELLOWSTONE PARK [got 3 million+ visitors in 2007]. You know...I had the PARK part and the rest of it felt like an arbitrary search for a park name of the right length.
  • [Brits call it "vanilla slice"] clues NAPOLEON. Fairly useless trivia, but trivia about baked desserts—and I like dessert.
  • GIL is the ["Drums Along the Mohawk" hero]. I doubt anyone who hasn't read the '36 book or seen the '39 movie will have any idea of this. Nor will they care in the slightest.
NAPSTER is a [Best Buy buy] not because you can buy Napster at Best Buy but rather because Best Buy purchased the Napster company in 2008. Other tech answers include DSL, or [High-speed initials], and WIFI, a [Cafe offering].

Tough clues I didn't find so irksome:
  • The BAHAMAS are [Home of the $3 bill].
  • The PINOT grape is a [Source of red or white].
  • [Sandpiper cousin] is a CURLEW. I love that word.
  • [Tree huggers, perhaps] are VINES.
  • Ivan LENDL of tennis is the ["Hitting hot" practitioner]. Tennis was more entertaining when Lendl was playing.
  • [Collie charge] is EWE. A collie who's herding sheep takes care of its charges, who may include ewes, rams, and lambs.
  • [Ill-fated TV vehicle] isn't using "vehicle" to mean "show." The answer is a transportation vehicle, the S.S. MINNOW of Gilligan's Island. With the first S and the OW at the end, I put in the old news show SEE IT NOW. That didn't help my solving time one bit.
  • [Collagen product] sounds like it's going to be obscure, but your TENDONs are made of collagen.
  • [One of a Luxembourg dozen] is a CANTON. I associate cantons with Switzerland mainly.
These ones weren't so hard for me and I liked 'em:
  • [Salsa specification] is CALIENTE.
  • [2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee] is RUN-D.M.C.
  • [Swimmer with barbels] is a CATFISH. The whiskery things are called barbels.
Now, Newsday team: Can we go back to Doug Peterson puzzles that are like his NYT and LAT puzzles? Maybe 20% harder than those, not 100% harder?

Randall Hartman's CrosSynergy puzzle, "Let Me Add...Um...To That"

Well, the title describes what goes on in the theme entries, but it doesn't sound natural at all.

My favorite theme answer is SENIOR MOMENTUM, or [AARP movement?]. Hartman takes a lively phrase, tacks on an UM, and creates a workable clue. I'm less fond of the other theme entries, particularly RED BARNUM. We don't precede a person's name with RED to indicate that they're embarrassed, and "red barn" feels a bit like "silver car"—yes, red barns are more common than other colors, but... And then there's COUNTRY DECORUM ([Etiquette while traveling abroad?]. Wait, a red barn and country decor? Too much! I am an urbanite. The ACHE FORUM ([Chat room for hypochondriacs?]) is okay.

There's lots of cool fill—W.C. Fields' The BANK DICK, the BIG EASY, RAY KROC, THE MAN, NO PROB, and that GOOSE EGG with three sets of double letters.


April 23, 2009

Friday, 4/24

NYT 7:21
BEQ 4:30
LAT 3:52
CS 2:53
CHE (untimed)
WSJ 9:19

Happy birthday to three of my favorite puzzle people! Evad, Byron, and PuzzleGirl were all April 24 babies, as was my son. Luckily, only one of the four expects me to present him with Legos tomorrow.

Barry Silk's New York Times crossword

Apparently I shouldn't fritter away an hour on Lexulous and phone calls before making it to the puzzle, because I got trounced by Howard Barkin to the tune of 3 minutes plus, and 4 minutes plus by Dan Feyer ("fredwbear" clocked in between Howard and Dan but I don't know that I buy that 3:20 time.) I took any number of detours in this crossword—RENTA instead of ECONO [___-Car], CREW instead of NAVY for the [Sub group], LAST WEEK instead of LAST YEAR, BIOLOGY instead of ZOOLOGY for [Alfred Kinsey's field], and my favorite wrong turn, BIKINI instead of INNING for [It has top and bottom parts]. Either answer is good for that last one and they share a couple letters.

I was also looking for 18A [Running] to end with a long A sound (the answer turns out to be ON THE LAM) because it sits opposite FIND A WAY, and SUSAN DEY and ENOLA GAY ([Carrier of very destructive cargo]) are another pair of long-A rhymes.

My favorite clues and answers follow:

  • 1A: [Now out...or "it"] is TAGGED, as in baseball...or tag.
  • 7A: [Its flag features an image of a stone-carved bird] clues ZIMBABWE. Here's the flag. Wish I'd known this bit of trivia because it really would have paved the way in the northeast corner. Quibble about the clue: Shouldn't it be "carved-stone bird"?
  • The northwest corner has not one but two Q's. T-SQUARES and AQUILINE ([Hooked, as a nose]) go down; SQUATS and QUAINT go across.
  • 20A: [Jambalayas] clues OLIOS, and I'm not sure why. Is jambalaya slang for a miscellany or is olio an edible stew? Olio seems to be related to olla podrida, which is a stew.
  • [Way up state?] isn't talking about a place in northern New York or a place like Tibet that's at a high elevation. It's MANIA, a state in which one is feeling up, way up.
  • U.C. IRVINE is where some of my cousins went to school (the cousins who are friends with ACPTer Eric Maddy). I had no idea they were [The Anteaters of the Big West Conf.]. Their school T-shirts must be hilarious. Yep, they are.
  • GUANACOS! These mammalian [Residents of dry, open country in South America] can be found at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans sharing living quarters with the crossword's second-favorite large bird, the rhea. Did you know male rheas sit on nests filled with a bunch of different females' eggs, and the females can cavort with other males while he's keeping watch over their eggs? Avian awesomeness.
  • DST, or daylight saving time, is a [Reason to do a 2 a.m. shift] of your clocks' settings.
Answers I didn't know:
  • Katarina Witt wants some respect. What's her last name doing assigned to [1984 perfect game pitcher Mike]?
  • RIC completes [Rapper ___-A-Che]. The Cars' frontman Ric Ocasek and wrestler Ric Flair are feeling put out.
  • GREGG is the [Texas county named for a Civil War general, with its seat in Longview]. Gregg shorthand and Gregg Allman want some props here.
  • [What wisdom outweighs, according to Sophocles] is WEALTH. But if you're wealthy, you can have a YACHT ([Millionaire's plaything]). Wisdom doesn't buy a lot of yachts.
  • I am part Lithuanian, sure, but I didn't know that [Like Old Prussian] would be BALTIC.
  • EMMETT fills in the blank in [Daniel Decatur ___, minstrel who wrote "Dixie"].
  • I got the M in [Physics Nobelist Simon Van der ___] MEER strictly by figuring out MANIA. That M gets my pick for toughest square.
  • [Pair of elephants?] is the BIG EARS possessed by elephants. I don't know that BIG EARS qualifies as a crossword-worthy phrase.
Updated Friday morning:

That rapper in the NYT puzzle, Ric-A-Che? I guess the name's supposed to be pronounced like "ricochet," but I see Che and hear the "Che Guevara" pronunciation. This puts me in mind of the little Pokemon critter called Pikachu, and I'm thinking that's not what any male over the age of 10 would wish his name to evoke.

Robert Wolfe's L.A. Times crossword

The theme doesn't seem to signaled in any way at all. Each theme entry contains an abbreviation for a road of some sort (abbreviations you'd see in a street address), but taking the place of words that aren't normally abbreviated in phrases. There's no hint that there will be abbreviations, no unifying entry whose clue explains it all. And that is why this puzzle's running on a Friday and no earlier in the week. Did you like the theme? It did not move me (or my car). Here's the theme:
  • 18A: To [Speed?] is to BURN UP THE RD. (road).
  • 24A: [Average Joe?] is a MAN ON THE ST. (street).
  • 35A: [Badly fluster?] is DR. TO DISTRACTION (drive).
  • 50A: [Excessive charge?] is HWY. ROBBERY (highway).
  • 57A: [Way out?] is AVE. OF ESCAPE (avenue).
Does SOEVER work for 47A: [In any way] without a preceding what? My dictionary says yes: adverb, archaic or poetic/literary, "of any kind, to any extent." Hey, how did you like 51D: [Lincoln-to-Cheyenne direction]? Four letters...hmm, that won't work for something like NNE, so what could it be? Just plain ol' WEST. I don't recall seeing a cardinal direction clued in relation to the space between two geographic points before. 7D: [Edwards who played Ben Casey] is VINCE, and I sure didn't know that one.

Mike Torch's Chronicle of Higher Education crossword, "Rock Festival"

All right! A puzzle for the geologically inclined out there! You don't see that too often. The theme answers are puns with the names of minerals (or a rock) substituted for words that sound similar:
  • 17A: [Put a gem on display?] clues ROLL OUT THE BERYL. This is a play on the "Beer Barrel Polka," also called "Roll Out the Barrel" ("We'll have a barrel of fun"). When I was a kid, Chicago TV channels would have commercials for record compilations of polka hits. This one's the most memorable; the misogynistic, fat-phobic "Too Fat Polka (I Don't Want Her, You Can Have Her, She's Too Fat For Me)" is in second place. Did the rest of you learn polka from commercials, or is that a regional thing?
  • I'm sorry—where were we? Oh, yes. 24A: [Man famous for his rock collection?] is MR. GNEISS GUY (Mr. Nice Guy). Gneiss is a metamorphic rock with a silent G.
  • 43A: [Mineral used to build residences?] is HOUSE BLENDE. Blende is a mineral also called sphalerite. Pitchblende apparently is a different mineral. House-blend coffee is the base phrase here.
  • 58A: [Sharpen a stone?] clues WHET ONE'S APATITE (appetite).
I did this one on paper last night while putting a birthday boy to bed, so I have no solving time to report.

Brendan Quigley's blog puzzle, "Going Through Hoops"

I finished the little bitty northwest corner, the PBJ/BOZO/JOSS stick corner, and moved along to 20A: [Sugar-covered peanuts]. Well, it doesn't take a Bostonian to know those are called BOSTON BAKED BEANS, but that wouldn't fit. It started with BOS, though, so that confirmed the answer and shouted "rebus" at me. "Hoops" in the puzzle's title? OK, so it's an NBA rebus. The other long rebus theme answers are AMERICAN BANDSTAND, which Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon appeared on a record 110 times. Is it OK that I've never heard of him? I know only Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington from Welcome Back, Kotter. Then there's BENJAMIN BANNEKER, the [African American mathematician who purportedly surveyed the District of Columbia. There's an extra rebus in the southeast corner, with no long answer anchoring it into place; Brendan wants to know if you felt that was fair. I wasn't on the hunt for symmetry, so I didn't mind it.

Among the flashiest answers were these:
  • T AND A is [Some erotica, briefly]. T&A was also observed on Charlie's' Angels in the '70s, years before Baywatch added shirtless men to the T&A mix. Do those shows count as erotica? With Hasselhoff?
  • EVAN BAYH is an [Indiana senator] with an NBA in his name.
  • The Elton John song "ROCKET MAN" is a classic.
  • RIGHT JABS [might set up crosses] in boxing.
  • [Versatile musicians] are ONE-MAN BANDS.
Ray Hamel's CrosSynergy crossword, "Roomful of Roses"

Ray Hamel is one of those legends in the trivia world, and this puzzle's theme answers could be a tough trivia question: "What do BETTY WHITE, the KEWPIE DOLL, the country GEORGIA, BING CROSBY, and UMBERTO ECO have in common?" The word "rose" or the name "Rose" ties them all together:
A couple of the fill answers relate to rose, too. A [Rose supporter] is a STEM. WILTS is clued [Droops, like an old rose]. And SMELL completes the phrase ["Stop and ___ the roses"]. Unusual theme but not a difficult puzzle; good fill. Two thumbs up.

Harvey Estes' Wall Street Journal crossword, "The Bases Are Loaded"

Boy, I could've save myself a lot of time and mystification if only I'd paid attention to the puzzle's title. It didn't take me forever to find the rebus square with THIRD in it, and eventually I found FIRST, but it didn't occur to me that they were in symmetrical spots and would be accompanied by SECOND base and HOME plate, the four rebus squares forming a baseball diamond. I was just thinking of ordinal numbers. 'Tis the season for baseball themes, and even without the New York Sun delivering a barrage of them, there are still so many. (Sigh.)

The long theme entries weren't straightforward answers at all, so there was a gimmick underlying the gimmick:
  • 24A: [Serious grilling by the cops?] clues MAJOR THIRD DEGREE. I know what the third degree is, but "major third" is a mystery. Hmm, it's one of those musical things I have no grasp of.
  • 113A: [Historic way to increase women in the army?] is a "LADIES FIRST" DRAFT, joining "ladies first" and the first draft of a paper.
  • 3D: [Western facility for seniors?] is a whopping 21 squares long: RETIREMENT HOME ON THE RANGE.
  • 16D: [De Gaulle, early in his career?] is CHARLES THE SECOND LIEUTENANT, combining Charles the Second and a second lieutenant. Raise your hand if the collision of De Gaulle and something-LIEUTENANT made you try to get the guy from The French Lieutenant's Woman in there somewhere. This answer was tough to piece together because the rebus crossing was a cooked-up phrase while the other rebus crossings weren't: [Motion to secede endorsed for a vote?] clues SPLIT SECONDED. Ouch!
I'm past being out of time to blog this morning, so I'll sign off here. Hope your Friday will be unseasonably warm but not too hot!